(photo credit: Courtesy)
US President Donald Trump’s chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt was scheduled to arrive in Israel late Monday, just days after Trump met separately in New York with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and reiterated his commitment to work toward a comprehensive peace agreement.
Greenblatt, whose previous visits here have focused on economic projects and an effort to improve the atmosphere and create the space where negotiations can resume, has no immediate plans to meet Netanyahu.
He was last here at the end of August.
In advance of Greenblatt’s visit, Netanyahu told his security cabinet on Sunday that a planned meeting of the Civil Administration’s Higher Planning Committee to approve housing in the settlements will be postponed until later next month. He also briefed the security cabinet on possible economic gestures toward the Palestinians, including improving the road to the new Palestinian city of Rawabi near Ramallah and establishing a new industrial zone near Tulkarm.
Greenblatt gave a peek into the Trump Administration’s diplomatic approach last week at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee comprised of donor countries to the Palestinian Authority held in New York.
The US, Greenblatt said, “is deeply committed to achieving an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement” and to this end has held deliberations with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, as well as other leaders in the region.
“It is no secret that our approach to these discussions departs from some of the usual orthodoxy – for after years of well-meaning attempts to negotiate an end to this conflict, we have all learned some valuable lessons,” he said.
“Instead of working to impose a solution from the outside, we are giving the parties space to make their own decisions about their future.
Instead of laying blame for the conflict at the feet of one party or the other, we are focused on implementing existing agreements and unlocking new areas of cooperation which benefit both Palestinians and Israelis.”
The White House announced Greenblatt’s trip on Sunday, saying he was returning to the region “to continue the peace track” between Israel and the Palestinians.
“While President Trump had productive meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas at the United Nations, we always said that the UN would not focus on peace conversations and that those conversations would be happening on a separate track,” the official said.
“The meetings are part of the administration’s quiet, steady discussions towards peace.”
Greenblatt will stay in Israel through Sukkot with his family.
Also on Monday, Israel welcomed the reelection of German Chancellor Angela Merkel but had no formal reaction to the rise of the far right Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party.
At a Rosh Hashana toast in his office, Netanyahu told workers that Israel had many friends in the world, and “another friend, Angela Merkel has just won the German government elections.”
Then, in an apparent reference to his own political future and the four elections he has won – something now matched by Merkel – he said: “It is good that someone wins for the fourth time; it is a sign for the fifth.”
Already on Sunday evening, when Merkel’s victory was announced, Netanyahu – who has had a somewhat strained relationship with the German leader because of her opposition to his settlement policies – wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to Angela #Merkel, a true friend of Israel, on her reelection as Chancellor of Germany.”
Netanyahu had nothing to say about the success of the AfD, which surprisingly captured some 13% of the vote.
While the Foreign Ministry has in the past recommended that Israel not engage with some of the far-right European parties such as Austria’s Freedom Party and Sweden’s Sweden Democrat Party, no policy has been established toward the AfD.Michael Wilner in Washington contributed to this report.